I no longer live in a world of front porches or, as we used to call them, “stoops.”
The front porch was a hybrid part of my home where we could set up our chairs and either privately talk with our family and/or publicly gossip with neighbors if they were strolling by and liked to yak. Our participation in the life of the neighborhood depended on who was out and about and how nosy they were feeling. We were not walkers. We stayed put.
Porch-sitting, I felt, was a needless risk to which my grandparents consistently subjected themselves. And, by extension, me. I never got comfortable with people just “stopping to chat” because I could never figure out what to say to them. And my nervousness about what to say clogged my ears; I could never comprehend what anyone was blabbing at me. The front porch was a terrible burden to a shy child.
The porch was also the place where you talked about your neighbors in hushed tones. Moments after they strolled away, and hopefully once they were out of earshot.
Today I live in a neighborhood where no one sits in front of their house. Ironically, we all have nice furniture sets greeting each other. In the old days, we’d carry out lawn chairs. Now, we sit in our backyards with our grills and dogs and drinks and wave at the neighbors in their yards, in their cars, in their worlds. There’s an unspoken understanding about personal space; however, I still feel vulnerable when I step outside. I’m awkward with the friendly banter that floats across fences. I can talk to complete strangers and, of course, friends, but not with the people who see me almost every day and sometimes accidentally get my mail.